Last year I had the honour of being invited by General Ishola Williams (rdt.) to serve in the Board of Directors of the Pan Africana Strategy and Policy Research Group (PANAFSTRAG). He serves as the Executive Director of this think tank which is headquartered in Lagos, the economic capital of Africa’s biggest economy by GDP. The institution describes itself as “a group of willing Africana people coming together voluntarily to deliver original thinking through in-depth study, research, and analyses that benefit Africana people worldwide.” It is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. 

In my almost every interaction with General Williams, he has been advocating for South Africa to appreciate its critical role in the conceptualisation of pan Africanism and us having hosted as his home – where he became the first black lawyer to be called to the bar in the Cape Colony – Henry Sylvester Williams during his grounded intellectual escapades. He has literally forced me to take note and to read as much as possible on this intellectual pan Africanist giant. Williams was not like many current Afrophobia commentators – with unlimited access to the mainstream media – whose specialisation is on cataloguing Africa’s problems and challenges without providing solutions. Yes indeed I, like many others here at home, always narrated the pan African effort from Pixley ka Isaka Seme’s 1906 award winning graduation speech which he aptly titled “the regeneration of the Africa”. So I’ve been failing to go a few years prior to Seme’s speech. 

So during this last edition of Jambo Africa Online celebrating the Africa Month, let me dedicate this piece to Henry Sylvester Williams and introduce him to those readers who have never read about him. As a business news portal, I will also touch on how pan Africanism as an epistemology may contribute to the development of our economies on the continent.

Williams played a significant role in conceptualising and advancing pan-Africanism, a movement aimed at promoting the unity, solidarity, and liberation of African people worldwide. Born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1869, Williams moved to London, England, where he became a prominent figure in the African diaspora community.

Williams is widely recognised as the pioneer of the pan-African movement, having organised the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900. The conference brought together African diaspora leaders, intellectuals, and activists from various parts of the world, including Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States. The primary objective of the conference was to address the social, political, and economic challenges faced by people of African descent and to foster unity among them.

By convening the conference, Williams sought to provide a platform for African and diaspora leaders to discuss common concerns and develop strategies for challenging colonialism, racism, and discrimination. The attendees at the conference included notable figures such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, and Bishop Alexander Walters, among others.

The conference led to the formation of the Pan-African Association, with Williams serving as its first general secretary. The association aimed to promote pan-Africanism, advocate for the rights and interests of people of African descent and encourage cooperation and collaboration among African diaspora communities. Williams played a crucial role in organising subsequent pan-African conferences, including the 1901 Pan-African Conference in London and the 1903 Pan-African Conference held in the United States.

Williams’ efforts helped shape the early ideology and objectives of pan-Africanism. He emphasised the importance of self-determination, equality, and the unity of African people in the struggle against colonialism and racial oppression. His advocacy for the rights of African diaspora communities laid the foundation for future pan-African leaders and movements.

While Williams’ contributions to pan-Africanism were significant, it is important to note that pan-Africanism as a concept and movement predates his work. Pan-African ideas and sentiments can be traced back to earlier figures such as Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden, and Alexander Crummell. However, Williams’ role in organising the First Pan-African Conference and establishing the Pan-African Association marked a pivotal moment in the formalisation and advancement of pan-Africanism as a global movement.

Henry Sylvester Williams’ dedication to the cause of pan-Africanism and his efforts to foster unity among African people have had a lasting impact on the struggle for African liberation and the pursuit of social justice for people of African descent worldwide.

Williams’ sojourn in South Africa

While Henry Sylvester Williams is primarily known for his contributions to pan-Africanism in London and on the global stage, he also had significant involvement in South Africa. Williams visited South Africa in 1899, prior to organising the First Pan-African Conference.

During his visit, Williams interacted with various African leaders and activists, including John Langalibalele Dube and Sol Plaatje, who would later become prominent figures in the struggle for South African liberation after establishing the South African Native National Congress (which was later renamed the African National Congress) in 1912 as the main political organization fighting against racial discrimination and segregation in South Africa.

Williams used his time in South Africa to advocate for the rights of Africans and to promote the principles of pan-Africanism. He delivered speeches and public lectures, emphasising the need for unity and solidarity among African people and encouraging them to assert their rights and challenge colonialism and racial oppression.

Williams’ visit to South Africa was significant as it helped to lay the groundwork for the development of pan-Africanist ideas and movements within the country. His interactions with local leaders and activists contributed to the formation of networks and alliances that would play a crucial role in the anti-apartheid struggle in the following decades.

Furthermore, Williams’ visit to South Africa highlighted the interconnectedness of the struggles faced by African people across different regions. It reinforced the idea that the challenges of racial discrimination and colonialism were not confined to specific geographic boundaries but were part of a larger global struggle for justice and equality.

Although Williams’ time in South Africa was relatively brief, his ideas and influence resonated with many African activists and intellectuals, contributing to the growth of pan-Africanist thought and the fight against racial oppression in the country. His visit served as a catalyst for future pan-Africanist activities and contributed to the broader anti-colonial and anti-apartheid movements in South Africa.

The role of pan Africanism in advancing economic development in Africa

Pan-Africanism can play a crucial role in advancing economic development in Africa by fostering unity, collaboration, and a shared vision among African nations. Here are some ways in which pan-Africanism can contribute to economic development:

Trade and Economic Integration: Pan-Africanism promotes regional economic integration by encouraging the establishment of free trade areas, customs unions, and common markets. By reducing trade barriers and promoting intra-African trade, countries can benefit from increased economic cooperation, market access, and economies of scale. Initiatives like the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) aim to create a single market for goods and services, facilitating trade and investment among African nations.

Infrastructure Development: Pan-Africanism can drive infrastructure development across the continent. Collaboration among African countries can lead to the development of transnational transportation networks, energy projects, and communication systems. By connecting countries and regions, improved infrastructure facilitates trade, investment, and economic integration, leading to increased productivity and growth.

Resource Sharing and Development: Pan-Africanism promotes the equitable sharing and sustainable management of Africa’s rich natural resources. By encouraging cooperation and joint ventures in resource development, African countries can maximise their collective benefits, reduce dependency on external actors, and ensure the responsible utilisation of resources for the long-term benefit of African people.

Knowledge Exchange and Skills Development: Pan-Africanism facilitates the exchange of knowledge, expertise, and best practices among African countries. Collaboration in education, research, and innovation promotes skills development, technology transfer, and the creation of a skilled workforce. This, in turn, enhances productivity, competitiveness, and economic diversification.

Investment and Entrepreneurship: Pan-Africanism encourages intra-African investment and entrepreneurship. By promoting a sense of shared identity and reducing barriers to investment, African nations can attract investment capital, foster business partnerships, and promote the growth of local industries and businesses. This leads to job creation, increased productivity, and economic empowerment.

Collective Bargaining and Negotiation: Pan-Africanism strengthens Africa’s negotiating power on the global stage. By presenting a unified front, African nations can advocate for fair trade, favourable investment terms, and equitable international agreements. This ensures that African countries can maximise the benefits of economic partnerships and protect their interests in the global economy.

Financial Cooperation: Pan-Africanism supports financial cooperation and integration. Initiatives like the African Union’s Agenda 2063 emphasise the establishment of regional financial institutions, common currency frameworks, and financial cooperation mechanisms. These efforts promote financial stability, enhance access to capital, and facilitate investment and economic growth.

Overall, pan-Africanism can foster a sense of collective responsibility, solidarity, and shared development agenda among African nations. By promoting economic integration, infrastructure development, resource management, knowledge exchange, investment, and negotiation, pan-Africanism can contribute to sustainable economic development, poverty reduction, and improved livelihoods across the continent.

Do enjoy what remains of the Africa Month festivities till the end of the month.

Stay blessed.

Saul Molobi (FCIM)

Publisher, Group Chairman & CEO

Brandhill Africa™

Tel: +27 11 483 1019

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